Sunday, May 3, 2020
The dog’s been fed and the house is still. I’ve done the early morning bottle feeding for three lambs, given the moms and the peanut gallery – made up of 2019 lambs and older ewes – two square bales of hay, filled a water bucket with fifteen gallons of fresh water and picked up the Sunday paper from the mail box. The coffee is on. I can’t say we’ve turned the corner on cold weather, but I’ll take today’s forecast of mid-60’s and sunshine. Over the last few days my sister, Eileen, and I have loaded up the tractor’s bucket with a generous scoop of last year’s decomposing sheep poo and hay, driven to eight homes in the neighborhood and dumped the loads near garden beds that are all but promises of what’s to come. The temperature for some of the morning deliveries has been in the mid-thirties and you can tell where we’ve been because of the random spills of compost on the road. We have one more delivery today. It takes time, a tractor will only go so fast, but it feels marvelous to bounce along the side of the road, breezy air and smells of fertilizer on the fields. So far, the barter has included homemade peanut butter cookies – they’re gone – a jar of raspberry preserves, dumplings and the promise of eggs once they’re laid.
After about a dozen lambs had been born, our first grandchild arrived with his parents. He was four weeks old and the parents were sleep deprived and in need of extra hands. I thought we wouldn’t hold this child until October due to COVID 19, but the parents had been quarantining just like we have been and, well, lack of sleep will have you do crazy things. We were still doing 2am barn checks for newborns so my sister Eileen took over the midnight feedings for the parents while Todd and I focused on lambing. In the ten days they were here that baby grew before our eyes. I hope never to forget the special treat of caring for Emmer while welcoming new lambs.
I’m afraid to contact the wool mill that has all our wool from this year’s shearing. We dropped it off on March 23 in Greenwich, NY where all businesses are shuttered. Originally, the promise had been that I’d get the wool back as yarn in time for the New Hampshire Sheep and Wool Festival scheduled for Mother’s Day weekend. That’s been canceled just like most of the summer fiber festivals. Vermont has just lifted the ban on local farmers’ markets, an anchor to my sales efforts, but only food and produce can be sold. I don’t understand how a local distillery can sell vodka but I can’t sell a skein of yarn. So be it. I can sell sausage and I want to support the market, so I’ll have my stall set up next week with mask, gloves, and all the other precautionary measures in place. I hope the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival is open in October and of course I hope the mill in New York doesn’t close down all together.
Usually I sell lambskin rugs at the farmers’ market until I run out. This year we had fourteen and knowing the market was a bust, I posted on Instagram a photo and, well, let’s just say I have three left. We use a tannery in Wisconsin call Stern’s and they do a magnificent job. Since we concentrate on colored sheep, our rugs range from almost black to cinnamon with one or two white and each one is soft as can be. I get such joy out of watching people’s reaction when they feel these rugs. I did hold one back for our grandson. Some parenting guru wrote about the benefits of babies feeling the texture of sheepskin and what a bonanza that advice has been.
Local news is a tough business on good days, and our daily paper, the Valley News, has been on thin ice for a while. With few advertisements to pay the bills it has continued to print, albeit a very lean, daily paper. A few weeks ago they launched a fund raising campaign to keep it going. I thought that was a long shot given it’s for-profit status, but this area really values its newspaper. To date I think they have raised $90k, far surpassing their $50k goal.
The other key sources of all things local are the area list serves. Each town has one, some more popular than others, and the Upper Valley list serve is intended to be the uber Yankee Swap and events place with over 4,000 followers. I subscribe to the Hartford list serve but the real “must read” one is Norwich, the next town over. It’s a mix of Dartmouth professors, successful entrepreneurs and executives from the giant Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and local dyed in the wool sixth and seventh generation Vermonters who squirm over all the money in town. The posts are a great mix of hyper local issues including lost dogs, stray cows, bear sightings, and do we need flashing lights in addition to speed bumps in front of town hall. There are exasperated posts about funding thermal heating projects, failed school septic systems and last summer there was thrilling coverage of an email scam that drained $250k from the town’s bank account.
COVID 19 has turned the Norwich list serve into an even more popular destination. There’s plenty of posts for mask making supplies and on line student tutoring, but the daily post done by Dan Fraser, owner of the beloved general store in the center of Norwich called Dan and Whit’s, has captured the heart of small town living. It started when Dan posted that his store would figure out how to deliver groceries for free. The next day, he posted that the local fire department would do all the deliveries. This was followed by posts of a child donating his piggy bank savings, baked goods arriving at the store as a way of thanks, and posts about all the local farm produce available through the store. Dan’s daily posts often start with a quote. Here’s one from earlier in the week along with his words of encouragement:
Greetings, “To see what is right and not do it is a lack of courage” Confucious Norwich IS doing it right- supporting and caring for our most vulnerable, shopping and dining locally to support our business community and checking on our neighbors.
Dan lives in my town, not Norwich, and ran to be on the select board and won – he is now President of the board. I don’t know when he sleeps.
Two recent list serve posts caught my eye. Talking Well Farm is a wholesale flower farm about thirty minutes from here. While I had never heard of them I had seen their products at the local grocery stores. They grow stunning, giant lilies as well as tulips and other flowers and for over 25 years they were only a wholesale business with sales as far away as Brooklyn. That has crashed down on them and for the first time they posted that they were opening their greenhouses for retail. Eileen and I took a road trip up and were blown away by the sight of row after row of tightly packed lily plants and zucchini seeds with buds about to burst. Their hours are very limited and they’re still struggling to figure out how to deal with people in their flower patches, but what a treat to discover this fragrant and beautiful secret.
The second post was done by Shire Beef. For several years they have provided the hamburger meat to the wildly popular restaurant, Worthy Burger, and they supply several other restaurants with top end beef. They too find themselves shifting from wholesale to retail. They’re based in Vershire, about 45 minutes from here, and early yesterday Todd and I made the trip. Niko, the owner, was there at one of his barns filling orders. No signage and no fluff, but our pre-ordered box of beef came out ready for the cooler. I had reached out to a neighbor to see if they wanted any and on our way home split the order up and dropped off their supply.
Eileen is building a home nearby. On Tuesday a tractor with a backhoe is getting dropped off so that we can tear up a long steep bed loaded with stumps and roots. I’ve worked with a tractor plenty, but I’ve never used a backhoe. The notion that a local company will drop one off, leave and expect two suburban girls to know what they’re doing strikes me as insane. But one thing I have learned in our nearly eight years of living in the Upper Valley is that surviving and flourishing is a matter of the mind. No one is looking over your shoulder for signs of failure. Everyone seems willing to help, even if you don’t know how to ask. Gender doesn’t count for much and there are endless ways to step up and learn, help out, and do stuff you’d never dreamed of when you were a child.